This review is part of the occasional Burgers Abroad mini-series, wherein I sample and review burgers from outside central Indiana.
The Indy Burger Guy visited Dockside on Torch Lake in Bellaire, MI on Sunday, July 29, 2018.
I’ve mentioned before that one of the first things I do before I head out on a vacation is to see where I can find the best burgers in a given location. I’ll narrow my field to several popular places, take a look at their menus, and see what I might like to try while I’m out of town. One thing of interest that I noticed as I poured over these menus: just about every menu I looked at featured something called an “olive burger.”
What was an olive burger? Why had I never heard of one? And why was it everywhere in northwest Michigan?
I took to social media to figure out what this phenomenon was. I got a bit of interaction on my Facebook page, but didn’t get much feedback on Twitter, so I took to Google. While I was unable to pin down the exact origins of the olive burger, I did discover that it’s something of a regional spin on the cheeseburger found only in Michigan (which explains why a born-and-raised Hoosier like myself had never heard of one). Apparently, a true olive burger consists of three basic ingredients: the burger itself, sliced green olives, and mayonnaise… and, to be honest, these would have been among the last ingredients I would have expected to find on a burger. In some cases, the olives and mayonnaise are mixed together to make a sort of ‘sauce,’ while in other cases (like the Oliveburger at Dockside), the two are included separately.
It really is the green olives that make the dish here, too. So popular are they in Michigan that I even overheard a gentlemen at Dockside order a regular hamburger “with everything,” and then request “a whole bunch of green olives on there” as well. This is not some passing fad, but something that’s been a part of the burger culture of Michigan since there’s been a burger culture in Michigan. It’s in their DNA. It’s primal.
And it’s not hard to see why. The green olives provide a great salty bite while texturally, they function in much the same way that griddled mushrooms do, providing a bit of moisture to the proceedings. That proved key in my experience… but more on that in a bit.
Firstly, a few words about the Dockside itself. Aptly named, the Dockside sits on the shore of Torch Lake, a beautiful picturesque vista with the clearest blue water I’ve ever seen outside of an actual ocean. The restaurant itself came highly recommended and had received generally favorable ratings on the likes of Yelp and TripAdvisor, but one thing I saw as I perused the menu filled me with pause:
“All burgers are cooked throughout. (No pink.)”
This almost made me ignore the recommendations and good reviews altogether. Almost. At the very least, it made me seriously consider ordering something other than a burger from Dockside. I mean, what kind of burger restaurant would willingly hamstring themselves this way? Even an overly cautious health inspector will concede that there is a minimum ‘safe’ temperature that still allows a burger to maintain its juiciness which is an essential part of the cheeseburger experience. An exception can be made for a smashed patty burger, but (SPOILER!) this was no smashed patty burger.
Which brings me back to why I was so grateful for the green olives (and the mayo, for that matter). The Dockside menu is true to its word: all their burgers (my wife ordered their Daredevil Burger and found this true as well) are cooked through – what a waste! If these were smashed patties, that’d be fine, but these are more backyard grill burgers… which means they’re thick, but that thickness is wasted if they aren’t juicy and that can’t happen if you cook all the juices out of them. What you’re left with (and what I actually got) was a burger that was… well, I think I’ll just let Bob Belcher tell you. As much as the green olive and mayo helped – and provided much of the flavor to the burger as well – it just couldn’t save this overdone and underseasoned burger.
That said, I’d certainly be interested to try another olive burger, but this particular example left much to be desired. If I’m ever back here, I’ll stick to the seafood offerings for sure!
FINAL RANKING: 6.9/10
Dockside Torch Lake
6340 Old Torch Lake Dr
Bellaire, MI 49615
Cost Range: $$ ($7 to $11)